Up until a couple of months ago this was my daily mantra. “Sleep??? I don’t have time to sleep! I have things to do, goals to crush, a world to takeover!” My days were powered by caffeine and ended with me falling asleep within seconds of my head hitting the pillow. After what felt like minutes but was actually 6, sometimes only 5, hours later I was up and back at it again.
Deep down I knew my lack of sleep was hindering my chance at world domination, but I was too afraid to let an extra hour of shut-eye cut into exercise/study/planning/list-making time. I KNEW that a lack of sleep triggered the body to release cortisol, a stress-hormone, therefore stimulating the retention of abdominal fat. I KNEW that exercise recovery happened during sleep and not during the anabolic window where I’d down a protein shake as fast as possible after a workout. And I KNEW that lack of sleep made my days a lot less enjoyable and simple tasks seem impossible to complete. But with not getting home from work until after midnight and having all of these “very important things that I must do every single day before work” I just couldn’t find the time for sleep.
Luckily I smartened up and realized that being sleep deprived wasn’t doing me any good. I didn’t experience any signs of over-training, didn’t have a nervous breakdown, and didn’t turn into a COMPLETE zombie. Nope, I just decided to start practicing what I would preach to my clients. During the past two months or so I’ve been getting between 7 and 10 hours of sleep per night and I’ve been feeling pretty fantastic. There’s the occasional night where I may only get 6 hours, but I don’t feel nearly as drained the next morning because I’ve got so many hours of sleep banked from other nights. I’ve been lifting heavier weights, recovering from intense workouts faster, and I’ve noticed an increase in my muscle definition. All things I’m not complaining about.
Sleep is a crucial factor in improving athletic performance, increasing muscular definition, and just being an all-around productive human. While we don’t have a solid grasp of the long-term implications of sleep deprivation yet, numerous studies have shown a correlation between a lack of sleep and a decline in memory and the ability of the brain to function properly. In other words? It looks like being chronically sleepy may turn you into a clueless zombie. I’m a pretty
skeptical person critical thinker and tend to take most things I read in magazines and scientific studies with a grain of salt unless there’s a ton of supporting research, but there are even studies out there trying to determine links between a lack of sleep and dementia and Alzheimer’s. You can read about them here and here.
Now from a performance standpoint, there’s one key thing that I need to drill into your heads here. The act of doing squats, presses, and lunges doesn’t make your muscles grow. Yes they stimulate the changes required to increase muscle growth; but your muscles actually grow while you’re resting. Say it with me: MY MUSCLES GROW WHILE I’M RESTING. So all your hard work in the gym is actually accounted for while you sleep! Not into the weights? That’s cool too. If you partake in any kind of endurance sport your muscles still need to repair and recover. Training for events such as triathlons and marathons can leave our immune systems in a weakened state, especially close to the event. Sleep is more important than ever to ensure a brief encounter with a germ doesn’t impair our ability to perform at an optimum level.
As I mentioned above, being chronically over-tired (and over-stressed….the two often go hand in hand) also stimulates our adrenal glands to release cortisol. Now normal levels of cortisol aren’t a bad thing. It has many functions such as regulating our insulin levels, blood sugar, and metabolism. Ever heard of the “flight or fight” response? Cortisol aids the body during the “fight” response by temporarily lowering our sensitivity to pain, and during the “flight” response it gives us a quick burst of energy to get away from danger. But when cortisol levels remain elevated for an extended period of time our blood pressure rises, blood sugar levels become imbalanced, and fat accumulates in the abdominal region. Not cool, cortisol. Not cool.
So now what does this mean for us? Should we continually skip morning workouts for that extra hour of sleep?
…..What do you think?
No. It means turn off the television an hour earlier. Put down your phone 30 minutes earlier. Stop wasting your time doing things that aren’t contributing to your physical well-being, aren’t contributing to your mental well-being, and aren’t contributing to you becoming a more productive member of society. Monday nights I want nothing more than to lie on my couch until 1am scrolling through Instagram, eating, and watching television shows so trashy I can feel my brain cells dying one at a time. But I know that won’t do me any good. So I suck it up and take advantage of the opportunity to have an early night and go to bed by 10. The more you sleep, the better you’ll feel and more likely you are to work out. If you work out you’re likely going to get a more restful sleep. And if you have a more restful sleep…..
It’s aaaallllllll connected here people. It can be tough, and it’s something I still struggle with, but there needs to be a balance between work, play, and recovery. This means making the effort to go to bed at a decent hour so we don’t have an excuse that was easily avoidable to skip a workout. But it also means sacrificing a workout every now and then to get that extra hour of sleep when our bodies really need it. Learn to listen to and respect your body, and over time it will help you achieve your goals, whatever they may be. Even world domination.